A woman says she lost her identity when her face was burned off whilst camping and revealed a cruel stranger compared her to a zombie.
Primary school teacher Halie Tennant, 29, went on a spontaneous camping trip with her friend on May 30.
After dozing off by the fire in her camping chair, her friend, who had fallen asleep in her swag, was awoken to a strange murmuring noise and the shocking sight of Halie lying head first in the campfire, making no effort to move.
Halie, from Hotspur in Victoria’s southwest, has little recollection of how this happened, but believes the chair must have tipped with her falling onto the blaze.
Springing into action, her friend pulled Halie from the fire, quite possibly saving her life, and poured ice cold water over the teacher’s terribly burnt face in order to cool it down.
With Halie being unaware of what had happened, the pair drove the short, almost two-kilometre ride home where the teacher’s husband Mathew kept her calm and her face as cool as possible by running it under a cold tap as an ambulance, an intensive care ambulance and Medevac helicopter made their way to the scene.
With the response staff quickly realising the severity of her injuries, Halie was rushed to the intensive care unit at Melbourne’s The Alfred Hospital, where she was immediately placed in a coma for eight days before being moved to the burns ward to start her recovery.
As for the future, there is a long way for Halie to go in her recovery.
She’s already spent more than two-and-a-half months in hospital and had six surgeries, including the removal of damaged skin and skin grafts to the face, neck, eyelids and mouth.
And despite making good progress, the healing process has not been without its problems.
Stranger’s cruel ‘zombie’ taunt
Halie said one of the hardest things following the campfire incident was “losing my identity”.
“My friend heard a weird noise and before she even registered what she was seeing, she was out of bed and running towards me. I was face first in our campfire and I was making no effort to get out,” she said.
“I don't remember any pain, I remember asking Mathew to love me no matter what and him saying, ‘yes’.
“COVID was the hardest part of my recovery, I really missed my family and friends. While in ICU I was only allowed one visitor for one hour per day so Mathew, my mum and my dad took turns sitting with me.”
Halie was initially released from hospital, but a week and a half later she had to be readmitted because her eyelids weren’t touching.
“Once this was fixed, the surgeons looked at me again when we were getting ready to discharge and made the call to operate again on my mouth, as it had contracted so much the my mouth couldn't open enough to eat something of a fork or spoon,” the 29-year-old said.
“The hardest thing was losing my identity, I'm not a vain person, but your face and its characteristics are important in how you recognise yourself. Not knowing who you are any more is a hard thing to come to terms with.
“The only comment I have received in person outside the hospital was a man walking past and he told me 'you look like a zombie' and kept walking.”
Campfire accident was ‘wake-up call’
Despite the ordeal, Halie is thankful for the outpouring of support she has received from well-wishers online, her family and husband Mathew, and is certainly trying to find every positive in the incredibly tough situation she finds herself in.
“My biggest supporter would have to be my rock, my husband, Mathew followed by my best friends, parents and my own personal cheer squad on the exotica tribe Facebook group,” she said.
“You have all helped me and kept me positive, laughing and honest, thank you a million times over.
“I am unable to work, I currently can't drive, but I have a better outlook on life.
“Since my accident I have chosen to seek help and to start working through my problems instead of ignoring them. This has gone on to be a hunt for silver linings. To be positive and to feel and acknowledge my feelings.
“I think of my accident as a wake-up call, a second chance to do better, to be better and to look after me better.”
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